I always thought that this democracy thing was quite simple. The political parties campaign for election, we listen to them and decide on whom we want to vote, we vote, the votes get counted, the winning party gets to form a government and we get on with our lives. Then, in five years’ time, we start all over again.
Apparently that’s not the case. Apparently if your party loses then you have the right, no the duty, to question the validity of the result, how the campaign was handled by the press, and even how the voters actually voted. You see, according to some commentators, we got it wrong. Yes, us, the people who voted in our millions, got it wrong and we can’t be trusted to know our own minds.
In the days following the election the BBC reporters were out and about asking not why the Tories won the election, but how come Labour had lost, as though the result had been a foregone conclusion and we, the voters, had put our crosses in the wrong box. But of course it wasn't just the TV news crews who were telling us we had made a mistake.
First out of the blocks were the Socialist Workers Party. They organised a demonstration along Whitehall on Saturday the 9th, demanding “Tories, Tories, Tories, out, out, out.”. By and large the march was peaceful, but a small minority felt free to attack the police and deface war memorials. The SWP haven’t disowned these people but they have seen fit to justify their actions as being ‘the people’s anger’.
This is the SWP who haven’t got a single elected member of Parliament and as far as I know haven’t even got any elected councillors. They are totally unsupported by the vast majority of the public, disowned even by the most left wing in Labour, but who feel that they have the right to demand the overturning of the entire legal political process. That’s just what we need, isn’t it? Self-appointed saviours of society governing us, whether we want them or not, the unelected and the unelectable telling everyone else what to do and what to think.
Interviewed on election night from Aberavon, where his son was about to be acclaimed, sorry, elected the local MP, Neil Kinnock had the effrontery to suggest that we, the people, had got it wrong by not hearing Labour’s message. Note that. Not that Labour’s message was wrong or that the electorate didn’t trust what we were hearing, but we hadn’t been listening.
Fast forward to BBC’s Question Time special edition on Friday 8th May and Alistair Campbell suggests that we, the electorate, shouldn’t be given the right to voice our views on membership of the EU because we can’t be trusted to get it right. The implication being that Labour’s views on the EU are the right ones, of course. Such humility.
Polly Toynbee, Matthew Wright and a whole lot of others have claimed that the “Tory” press have misrepresented Labour. This after months of Toynbee using The Guardian as her personal Labour soap box and Wright using his TV morning show as a Labour platform to attack the Tories. Rupert Murdoch and his papers have come in for their usual share of bile of course, which is par for the course and as for the Daily Mail, well the sons and daughters of Satan who scribble away in Knightsbridge came in for a unique brand of venom.
Not a word was said about the viciousness of the Daily Mirror’s press coverage, of course. No, we wouldn’t want anyone being impartial.
According to Matthew Wright there should be press censorship for anything that is written in the Daily Mail. This is the same Matthew Wright who so vigorously defended freedom of the press after the Charlie Hebdo killings. But apparently freedom of the press only applies if the press says the things that Toynbee and Wright want it to say. And of course, the underlying message is that we, the voters, got it wrong by not doing as these unelected scribblers and media tarts told us to do by voting Labour.
I have no doubt that the left wing comedians (sorry, that’s a tautology), the comedians will already be writing their new jokes about how the public were fooled and as the audiences chortle at their ribaldry they will forget that they, the audience members, are the ones who the comedians are talking about. Comedians don't respect the electorate either. We're just there to buy their gig tickets and DVDs.
It is unsurprising that the party or parties that lost should wonder why. This is especially true for Labour who had expected, if not to win outright, at least to be in with a shout of being the largest party. But to tell the voters that they got it wrong is arrogance and it tells us all we need to know about the left.
Once again Ed Miliband refused to accept his part in failure and failed to recognise that the voters no longer trusted Labour on spending. It was the campaign that was wrong, apparently, not the message. Tristram Hunt, in a rare moment of candour, finally and reluctantly owned up to Labour overspending when he appeared on Question Time on 14th May. However, this wasn't a full blown mea culpa, but a watered down "we failed to leave enough head room in the spending plans for when things went wrong".
They are so arrogant that they don’t think we have minds of our own. They don’t think that we are capable of listening to the arguments and drawing our own conclusions, and above all we are incapable of voting the right way; the Labour way. I think that with arrogance like that it is no surprise at all that we voted the way we did.
Mind you, the way Labour screwed up education when they were in power they may have a point about people not being able to understand the issues – but please, at least be humble enough to assume that we are as intelligent as you and that we are capable of making up our own minds. Some of us are from the generations that were taught how to think, not what to think.
I can assure you that the Sun, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph and the Times didn’t influence my decision to vote Conservative. Neither did the BBC or Channel Four. The Labour Party did that all by itself.
The problem for Labour now is how they come back. Already a false narrative is developing that it was Scotland that lost them the election. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if they had held onto all 40 of their Scottish seats and taken the Lib Dem seats in Scotland as well, they still would have lost the election because the Scottish vote didn’t cost the Tories a single seat.
Now, of course, the job is harder. Just to put things into perspective, assuming the SNP retain their grip on Scotland it means that at the 2020 General Election Labour has to take all 8 Lib Dem seats plus 31 Tory seats in England and Wales and Labour still won’t be back to where they were on 6th May. They then have to take another 30 seats off the Tories just to make Labour the largest party in the Commons – and that doesn’t even give them a majority. They would still have to do a deal and the 4 seats from Plaid Cymri and the Green’s aren’t going to be much help so that let’s in, guess who, the SNP to start calling the shots.
To form a majority government is such a mountain to climb that any Labour supporter hoping to see a Labour government again in their lifetime will have to be a very young person right now. It isn’t impossible, of course.
In 1997 Labour won a massive 418 seats, the largest number for any party since before World War II. But on the other hand they have never started from such a low base and won within that same time period. After the 1979 election Labour had 268 seats, 36 more than they have now, but it took them four attempts before they could once again sit on the government benches and in those days they could rely on the Scottish vote.
Of course they can hope that the SNP will implode but they would have to be a very bad government in Scotland for that to happen. So there is some hope for Labour.
So, however wrong we got it, what of the result itself. Aneurin Bevan once said "Every election, must have a bogeyman. If you haven’t got a programme, a bogeyman will do." In this election we had two bogeymen, one from the left and one from the right.
Hooray for UKIP losing one of its two seats and failing to get Nigel Farage elected. The good people of Rochester & Strood and Thanet South are obviously not all anti-EU or closet racists. It’s interesting that the TV news crews found all those people to interview who talked about foreigners stealing jobs and living on benefits, but the voters themselves didn’t vote in favour of UKIP. The film crews weren’t ‘shooting the story’ by any chance, were they?*
Then we come to Nigel Farage’s “resignation”. This has got to be the most cynical political stunt not just in years but possibly in centuries. He protests his innocence, of course, telling us that the party’s National Executive “wouldn’t accept his resignation”. Well, Nigel, I have news for you. They can’t make you do the job. You could have said “I really meant it. I resign” and then just got up and walked out of the room. But you didn’t so that tells us just how much integrity you have.
On Question Time Nigel Farage claimed that the overwhelming majority of UKIP voters were in favour of him staying. But of course that isn't enough, he needs more voters to get more seats and what are those that didn't vote UKIP this time going to think of Farage now that he has gone back on his word?
The UKIP result, a not inconsiderable 3.9 million votes, has once again led to a call for an end to the first-past-the-post voting system, only 4 years after 68% of the population said they didn’t want PR. Bad luck UKIP, but I’m afraid you’ll have a tough struggle on your hands making Dave hear your pleas with regard to that one. The Lib Dems, previous pleaders of that cause, had to be in coalition before they could get the referendum and then they lost it.
What Farage forgets is the local nature of politics in this country. 3.9 million votes spread from Berwick to Lands End is meaningless if you can't persuade enough voters within a single constituency that you have the right policies. High profile as you are you couldn't do it, Nigel. Mark Reckless couldn't do it and neither could all the other UKIP candidates. That's why you only won one seat, not because of the electoral system.
However, the big news for me is the SNP winning all those seats. This leaves the SNP as the third biggest party in Westminster, but they don’t actually have any power there. I think those 50 new MPs will find it isn’t what they thought it was going to be. Being a constituency MP is hard and sometimes thankless work and although there are 56 of you all told, without being able to influence government policy in any meaningful way there is little reward or job satisfaction. Just ask the Lib Dems, who spent so many years as the third party before they eventually got a share of power.
This is where the danger lies for David Cameron. If his government ignores this level of representation then the SNP will agitate for a fresh independence referendum and if they get it they are more likely to win. Alex Salmond has already been on TV saying that the election result takes Scotland closer to independence, not further from it. Yes, despite the 55% of Scots who voted against independence. Apparently that vote, taken just eight months ago, no longer counts; only this one does.
Labour lost its support in Scotland because it took its voters there for granted. If the Tory government now also ignores Scotland then Salmond will undoubtedly be proved right.
This isn’t just about keeping the promise for greater devolution that was made last September. It isn’t about winning Tory seats up there - that ain’t gonna happen. It certainly isn’t about rhetoric. This is about winning hearts and minds north of the border. It’s about doing things that show the people of Scotland that a Westminster government, regardless of political colour, is governing for the good of the whole country, not just for the bit where they can win seats. Of course the government won’t get the credit; Nicola Sturgeon will claim that, but it’s not about credit, it’s about doing what is right.
Thatcher got it wrong in Scotland and sounded the death knell for all but one Tory MP. Blair, Brown and Miliband got it wrong in Scotland and we now know the true cost of that in terms of votes. Cameron (good Scottish name) must get it right even if it does mean Nicola being proclaimed St Jimmy of Krankie. Gieven her meeting yesterday with David Cameron perhaps Nicola Sturgeon should change her name to Oliver Twist. After all, she's always asking for more!
Of course this doesn’t just apply to Scotland. The key to the Tories staying in power beyond 2020 is to do something about the deprivation that exists elsewhere in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, regardless of whether or not it is a Tory seat, or a marginal or any other caveat that may be applied. Governing for the whole country must mean something in practical terms or it just becomes a trite sound bite.
It has often been said that opposition parties don't win elections, governments lose them. If the Tories want to remain the tenants of Downing Street beyond 2020 they would do well to remember that.
Now the Tories must also keep their promise to hold a referendum on staying in the EU. I will be voting to stay in, but the referendum must be held if we are to squash UKIP ambitions once and for all and if we are to shut those carping Tory backbenchers up. There is a lot wrong with the EU, but we won’t make Britain better by taking our ball home. That will cost us jobs and it will cost us our place on the world stage.
Britain is a small country that punched above its weight for centuries. That no longer applies. Inside the EU we have influence, if only inside the EU. Outside we have nothing, not any more.
The Americans aren’t really interested in us anymore. They can get far more of whatever they want by dealing directly with Brussels, Berlin and Paris. India and Pakistan were glad to see the back of us. Black Africa isn’t interested in us, they’re more interested in how they can trade with China. Australia, New Zeeland, Canada et al have found new friends and forged new trading relationships. They may still like us (despite ourselves) but they don’t need us.
Anti-Eu lobbyists are keen to remind us that only 40% of our trade is with the EU, as though that was an insignificant amount of money. Well, the roof of my house is only 40% of the total structure, but it wouldn't be much of a house if I let the roof start to leak.
To jeopardise even 1% of our trade would mean job losses here and the ability to replace it with trade elsewhere is a risk. Every salesperson can tell you that it is 13 times harder to make a sale to a new customer than it is to sell to an existing customer. So why do the the anti-EU lobby want us to risk our relationships with our existing customers? It is madness.
I hope that the electorate make the right choice when the referendum comes, but rest assured, if the referendum vote goes against remaining in the EU I won’t be parading down Whitehall telling the voters that they got it wrong. It’s called democracy – get over it!
Prediction: Chuka Umunna has withdrawn from the Labour leadership contest after only a few days, citing the pressure he was being placed under. Let me offer an alternative explanation. Expecting Chuka to now be a Cabinet member some enterprising journalist went looking for dirt on him - and found it. Let's see what the headlines in the Sunday papers have to say in order to find out what Chuka defines as "pressure".
* “Shooting the story” is the practice amongst news crews of interviewing people who hold a view that supports what the reporter wishes to report, but they ignore opposing views. So, if the TV crew wishes to suggest that all the people of Thanet South are xenophobes they will find people to interview that are xenophobes, but ignore those that aren’t.